Competition among startups targeting the crop health and analytics space can be fierce. Farmers have a plethora of choices when it comes to testing technologies that can provide deeper, real-time insights about what’s happening in their fields. To stay competitive, startups have to bring real value to growers — and the most accurate insights possible. For precision crop diagnostics startup Aker Technologies, relevant analytics combined with geospatial imaging is the key to standing out.
“We use it as the basis of what we do,” Orlando Saez, Co-Founder and CEO of precision crop diagnostics startup Aker Technologies, tells AFN.
Aker offers growers its TrueCause autonomous crop-scouting technology and its software platform, which together offer “above” and “under”-the-canopy crop diagnostics and analysis of field conditions and input effectiveness.
When Aker launched in 2016, it started as a drone crop health mapping service intending to support the work of field scouts and agronomists. To differentiate from the multitude of other drone-focused startups in play at the time, Aker realized it needed to provide not just stress maps, but more detailed analytics and diagnostics to reveal the cause of stress and provide more timely and accurate crop management recommendations.
Automating an under-the-canopy evaluation is key, particularly as growers can now cover more acres in the same amount of time.
“Satellite data doesn’t give you the cause of the stress. Normally the next action is somebody walking the fields. As field human capital becomes less abundant, you need innovation to scale the timely assessment of crops and field conditions,” Saez explains.
“Our technology is able to quickly and cost-effectively discover the source of stress. No matter if it is a disease, weed, or some other indication, agronomists and growers can take the right action.”
Saez is participating in a panel at the October 6, 2021 AgTech NEXT conference to address the intersection of AgTech and Geospatial. Specific panel topics include how that intersection can help growers make informed decisions to benefit their bottom line and the environment, in turn helping us move the needle on climate change.
This year, AgTech NEXT is offering a three-part conference series focusing on different aspects of climate change. Click here to view the entire list of speakers and panelists for the final two events and register. Tickets are complimentary.
Read on to learn more about how Saez (OS) and Aker are using geospatial imaging and what may be in store for the future of this technology.
AFN: How does geospatial imaging fit into your business?
OS: There is a direct relationship between the cost of collection and the value of the insight. On one end you have satellite, which is low-cost but low resolution and requires modeling and correlation with other farm data in order to be relevant. While this approach is very useful, it does not have the necessary resolution to address all use cases that can create value in agriculture.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have ground-based sensors such as weather stations and soil probes, that are extremely precise. These provide high resolution and real-time information on a specific location but do not scale cost-effectively. Drones and other land robots can fill the gap of resolution and timing that is adequate to optimize field collection for practical use cases typical of existing agriculture workflows such as see-and-spray, tissue sampling, and ground-truthing. When it comes to remote sensing and geospatial imaging, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. The best approach is to first work with a grower’s perspective, then find the right digital components that can fit this need.
AFN: Where are we in the lifetime of geospatial imaging technology in agriculture? Is this something that is relatively new and still developing? Or is it a mature technology?
OS: Geospatial technologies have been in place for decades. While the technology is relatively mature, the challenge and opportunity are related to the application and use of these datasets. There’s an over-abundance of data. The opportunity is answering the “So what?” Value exists at the intersections of how we use the data for a specific reason and how we can enable better predictions on what is about to happen next.
The other opportunity is interoperability. We are not lacking in available technologies or standards, but we need more work on the adoption to automate end-to-end workflows that require data from different systems. Many innovators are looking forward to a fully integrated see-and-spray workflow from field detection, zone creation, input recommendation, and spray.
AFN: Looking to the future, what are some of the broader applications of geospatial imaging technology?
OS: I think automated ‘see and spray’ is a big application. There are also many opportunities to correlate soil and plant health data to tell better field stories. Today we have a number of vendors that provide deep science or traditional feature-benefit marketing tools for inputs. I see a growing market to pursue high-tech large on-farm trials to accelerate the research pipeline and engage growers with better crop outcomes from new technologies.
AFN: What are some of the challenges around geospatial imaging today?
OS: There is an abundance of data. The challenge is consolidating it and creating better stories from it. Part two is integrating that data with the implementation workflow. After you have what you think the problem is, how quickly can you move that into an implement, spray, and make a recommendation of a prescription. Those two things are the biggest challenges.
AFN: What are you hoping to get out of AgTech NEXT?
OS: We had a prep call with all the panelists and we are excited to have a casual conversation on practical topics that link innovation with what actually happens in the field. We don’t have any script or presentations, but we have a very smart panel bringing a wealth of experience to discuss some key areas, including impediments to technology adoption, evolving skills and talent needs for the industry, and more. I think the notion of looking at technology as part of the trusted advisor mix is an important part of the evolution and future of agriculture.
People often fear that technology will replace people instead of empowering them. So, the question is what are the technology skill sets that are needed in the future? Who is the next generation of people needed to build or blend IoT, hardware, and software? There’s an enormous opportunity.